More Tips
  • Never rely upon the spelling of a family name; both census takers and family members were often illiterate or nearly so;

  • Do not assume genealogical records to be accurate. (Perform your own due diligence; i.e., does the cited evidence really exist; does it really say what has been reported?)

  • Do not assume official records to be accurate, especially about dates. It is not unusual to find contradictions and/or other differences in old records, so these must be resolved – which record is the more likely to be accurate? Furthermore, it was not unusual for an event to be recorded some time after its occurrence. The recorder was not necessarily a witness to the event, either.

  • Family records often include "wishful thinking" about both relationships and actions of ancestors. Much of our early history was oral in nature; facts become "fuzzy" and/or distorted after repeated narrations. (This includes entries in the family Bible, too.)

  • The presence of a child in a household census does not signify that the child belonged to that household. It only means that the child was there when the census taker arrived.

    Also, it was not unusual for a child to be "loaned" to another family in return of some consideration; hence, the child would appear with that family in census records.

  • A family myth may contain a germ of truth, but it is still a myth until the "facts" of the myth have been proven and documented.

  • Look at the genealogy of one's allied families. There can be a useful bit of included information from a family chronicler that pertains to your line.

  • Conjecture may suggest lines of inquiry, but it is not proof. Neither is wishful thinking.

  • While DNA testing may identify others to whom an individual is related, it cannot, however, establish the nature of the relationships.

  • Never give up; as someone once remarked, "Genius helps and luck is capricious, but diligence and persistance eventually pay off."

  • Everything is conjecture or myth until there are at least two separate documents pieces of evidence. Three pieces are better.

  • When a needed document is obtained — read it! Better yet, read it twice. If there are dates, make a timeline to see that they match.

  • The overarching tenet of genealogy is, "Share your information and documentation with others." (It is permissable to ask for reimbursement for sharing.)

...if all else fails, remember

"I used to have a life; then I started doing genealogy." –Anon.

"Why waste your time looking up your family tree? Just go into politics, and your opponents will do it for you." – Samuel Clemons

Naming Patterns

While it's not unusual for sons to be named after their fathers, nor daughters to be named for their mothers, there is a customary convention that governed how families named their children. This is the convention:

  • The first son was named after his paternal grandfather;
  • The second son was named after his maternal grandfather;
  • The third son was named after his father;
  • The fourth son was named after his oldest paternal uncle;
  • The first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother;
  • The second daughter was named after her paternal grandmother;
  • The third daughter was named after her mother;
  • The fourth daughter was named after her oldest maternal aunt.


Then there's the (apparently quaint Southern) custom of keeping track of relatives in the family tree, particularly all those cousins, second, third, fourth removed. What does this really mean? It actually refers to the generational separation between two individuals belonging to a common family tree. Thus, a first cousin is of the same generation as the individual; the child of a first cousin is once removed, or separated by one generation. The chart below depicts the generational separation, for both older and younger relatives.

The Soundex System

Soundex was developed and patented by Robert C. Russell and Margaret King Odell. The Soundex code came to prominence in the 1960s when it was the subject of several articles in the Communications and Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery, and when The Art of Computer Programming. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains the rule set for the official implementation of Soundex as used by the U.S. Government. These encoding rules are available in NARA's General Information Leaflet 55, "Using the Census Soundex".

The Soundex code for a name consists of a letter followed by three numerical digits. The letter is the first letter of the name, and the digits encode the remaining consonants. Consonants at a similar place of articulation share the same digit so, for example, the labial consonants B, F, P, and V are each encoded as the number 1. Thus, the Soundex filing system keeps together names of the same and similar sounds but of variant spellings; e.g. Yarbrough = Y616. In the 1900 Soundex, Yarbrough may also be found as Y610, and those families would be listed first.

Soundex cards have the name, race, month and year of birth, age, citizenship status, place of residence by state and county, civil division and, where appropriate for urban dwellers, the city name, house number and street name. The cards also list the volume number, enumeration district number, and page and line numbers of the original schedules from which the information was taken. The 1900 Federal Census is a significant schedule, as for the first time it gives the birth month and year, as well as age, the year of immigrations to the United States, and the number of children the wife has had, including the number living.

The population schedules, the most detailed yet, provide the name of each person in the household; address; relationship to the head of the household; color or race and sex, month and year of birth; age at last birthday; marital status; the number of years the wife has been married, the total number of children born of that marriage and the number living; places of birth of each individual and the parents of each individual; immigration and number of years in the United States; the citizenship status of foreign-born individuals over age twenty-one; occupation; whether the person can read, write and speak English; whether the home is own or rented; whether the home is a farm; and whether the home is mortgaged.

Page last updated June 22, 2017.
© The Yarbrough National Genealogical & Historical Association, Inc. 2017.